Keeping it real!


I am now firmly back in the toad land of work, the long  day stretches ahead and the sky can just be glimpsed through the bars of the firmly shut blinds.

My garden is another five days away and only a few pot plants on the desk remind me of the green I am missing.

A few unexpected specks of spherical black, dot my desk and I realize they are insect frass.  On close inspection of my rose scented geranium, I spot eaten leaves and more frass.  There can only be one explanation.  A caterpillar has hitched a ride from the garden and is slowly devouring my plant, utterly safe from all predators on my desk.

I think it is a garden tiger moth caterpillar and as I write, its hairy body is swelling as it ingests the perfumed leaves.  It doesn’t mind being here.  This is safe and profitable for a caterpillar.

Time to take another lesson from nature, I suppose: but when it turns into an extravagantly patterned moth, I will need to find a way to set it free!

A cautionary tale .

This photo shows sparrows eating a mound of instant noodles on my bird table. They don’t believe in clean eating and would turn their beaks up in righteous disgust at a spiralised courgette . This doesn’t mean however that I normally cooked up such preprocessed junk even for the birds, so why this heap of quick cook gunk today?

The answer lies in tectonic plates and inescapable caution. We live on a fault line, the Rhine Valley, which may have been dormant for 700 years, but you can never be too careful. If the faults should shift and the house should fall, and we should some how escape, we would be ok, as we have an emergency box in the garden shed.

That is a lot of “shoulds”, but if we managed to drag ourselves out of the wreckage and dig through the flattened wooden shed, we would discover a large trunk of life sustaining goodies.

We have a tent, sleeping bags, first aid stuff, water purifying tabs . We also have basic food that could be cooked on wood from the wood store. These delicacies include tins of hot dogs and instant noodles.

Assuming we survive the nuclear power plant melt down, the zombie apocalypse and final release from the internet, we could get by for a few days. There is even cat food in the box.

This monument to hope/stupidity was assembled some years ago. This summer we opened it again, to find many out of date cans and a lot of mice nests. The mice were evicted, in date food replaced the old, and voila the sparrows got to eat the old noodles!

I hope in a few years time to repeat the exercise, use the next batch of out dated food to feed these sparrows off spring and continue to hope for peaceful times, a quiet earth and a cautious approach.

Caught in time.

This tiny blue butterfly took a fancy to my hat and spent much of the day photogenically attached to me, as we wandered around an upland meadow earlier this week. It sat on my hair, when I took off the hat and it rested on my water bottle when it tired of riding on the hat. I don’t know what the butterfly got out of our interaction, but when I looked closely at his wonderful compound eye, I knew I was looking into something immensely old and extraordinary.
This photo was taken using a microscope of a fly caught in a chip of amber bought recently. The eye is concave from the pressure of the ancient resin, but still very recognisably and unchanged: an insect.

Some other insect eyes from recent moth trapping, watching me across the ages, include lesser elephant hawk moth and oak eggar moth.

I wonder which one of us understands more of life on this planet?

The First Flower

Apologies to any one who clicked on my last post and found nothing.
I was trying to repost a fantastic article from the Guardian news paper about the evolution of flowers. This is a link to allow you to read it for yourself.

Mother of all blooms: is this what the last common ancestor of flowers looked like?

I never ceased to be astonished by the variety and beauty of flowers, which I think is actually a very deep seated human acknowledgement of their absolute centrality to human existence. They are not just pretty – they give us life!

To prevent further pontification, here is a picture of one of my garden ornaments contemplating a bat dropping on the bathroom window sill.

Being in the right place.

I used to steal flowers. There have been times when I have kept a small pair of scissors in my handbag to facilitate a quick snip as I strolled nonchalantly by.

In my defence I never stole prize blooms from tidy gardens, but I could not resist the sprawling rose from the over grown garden; the unappreciated lilac from the building plot; the perfumed  mock orange flowers from the municipal bush; the lavender spike to crush between the passing fingers.

My criminal days are over. After so many years of waiting I have my own garden and I have loaded it with flowers. When I pass other gardens, I admire and walk on, as my hunger for the beauty of flowers has been satisfied .

I rarely pick my own flowers as I know they will last longer in the garden. Now a days I pick flowers as gifts for neighbours and friends or to save a particular beauty from a threatened hail storm.

These flowers were all picked because they were in the wrong place. The everlasting peas had climbed into my neighbour’s apple tree; the Russian sage was sprawling over the lawn; the artemisia was lying over the gladioli; the marigolds were crowding out my new irises; the phlox had fallen over in the rain and the geranium had been broken by a cat.

I don’t have the flower arranging eyes of the clever bloggers who fill vases on a Monday. These were just crammed in a pot; but none of them were stolen and for now they are in just the  right place!



Harvesting Starts

It is still high summer, but many vegetables are ready already!

Our vegetable plot is chaotic, nothing is in straight rows and the most obvious thing that we grow are self sown marigolds and wild borage, bowed down with bees. But somehow, some edible plants survive and we have been eating beetroot and beetroot leaf salad, curly kale, swiss chard, peas, lettuce, green cabbage and courgettes that turn into marrows over night. There are endless dishes if green beans and a tray of shallots are drying in the cellar.

The potatoes are ready to dig up when we get the time, but there has been time to locate and tickle up the garlic, that was ready to harvest weeks ago. It has come to no harm in the ground and is now happily, plumply drying in the sun.

Sometimes life seems very good!

Upcycling – Plastic Bottle Greenhouse 

This is a brilliantly simple way of turning a problem – empty water bottles – into something useful to start seedlings off in the spring, or force tomatoes in cool countries! I am going to try it!

Botanical Adventures

Today Kady (Curation Scholar) had arranged for us to go on a tour of Bethlehem Natural History Museum. The Museum doesn’t have much money but are accomplishing great things. Few institutions are assessing the ecology of the Palestinian Territories, the museum is one of them. Helping institutions like the museum is so important for world conservation.

Detailed assessments of the flora in the area could be incredibly interesting. This is because new data could be compared with ‘Flora Palaestina’. Published in 1966 the texts include a fairly comprehensive distribution atlas, this could be compared with new data. It could help raise the alarm about plants that are in decline. Though so far the museum has worked more on fauna.

The museum has a glasshouse constructed with a timber frame and coated with plastic bottles. It’s very effective and seems pretty similar to the expensive, air filled, plastic coatings. It has…

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Today is beautiful.

Today is so beautiful. I don’t have to go to work, the sun is shining and the garden is bursting with life.

Days like this make me count my blessings and I am acutely aware of how privileged I am .

It is not like this for most people in the world and the natural world is increasingly a luxury that few can afford.  I am also very aware of the great movement of people across Africa who want a better life in Europe where the rains come more regularly, the grass grows lush and green and there are butterflies.

For this they risk appalling journeys across land, risk drowning in the sparkling Mediterranean Sea and are then corralled and often deported to face the same life in  the dry countries where the rain doesn’t fall.

Response to this is difficult and mostly we try to ignore the images and hope somehow the migration will stop and everyone will stay home.

I don’t believe it will, and the real answer has to be in nature, in greening the dry countries; in making countries were people are happy to stay home, to grow food and to raise healthy children.

The Great Green Wall

seems to be an answer to this huge issue. It is an African lead  initiative to plant trees and to keep back the desert all the way across Northern Africa.


It is hugely ambitious and utterly wonderful. The greenery will change the climate, rain will come back, food can be grown again and many more people can hopefully enjoy a beautiful day just like today.


In plain sight.

Sometimes you don’t realise what is right in front of you.

This morning was sunny and still and the garden is feverish with butterflies. Clouds of gate keepers and ringlets were swarming over the wild marjoram flowers; peacocks and red admirals were feeding on the buddlia and a wonderful silver washed fritillary was flouncing from one to the other. I tried so hard to capture them.

This red admiral was still for a moment.


And this shot gives a tiny taste of the constant flicking of wings over the marjoram



The fritillary, as befits her rarity, refused to pose and so I gave up and shot pictures of the still, flat plates of wild carrot flowers and when I looked at the shots later, there is the pure white orb spider perfectly camouflaged amongst the tiny petals. Just proving what unexpected beauty there is in total stillness!